If you observe Lent, you’re already a few days into the solemn season. Whether you’re fasting completely or just giving up certain food groups, there are health questions you should ask yourself — and your doctor — before drastically changing your diet.
Indiana University nutritionist Katie Hake recommends consulting a doctor before fasting to determine how it would impact any medication you’re on or the possible side effects you may notice.
“If somebody has some sort of medical condition, like diabetes,” Hake said, “they should consult with a physician, because it could do more harm than good.”
If you choose to fast, meaning you don’t eat for a certain period, Hake recommends looking into possible modifiers, such as drinking broths to maintain energy. Further, she recommends avoiding strenuous activities and staying hydrated.
This year, Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic calendar — begins on April 23. During this time, observant Muslims fast for a month, only eating in the early hours of the morning and after sundown, with the exception of young children, the elderly and the chronically ill.
When eating is permitted, Hake suggests loading up on foods that are high in protein, such as peanut butter, and making sure that you have a well-balanced plate.
Fasting is not recommended for children, especially those participating in a sport. Instead, Hake suggests that families with young children can alter their eating habits as opposed to their diets.
“Families can make a point to prepare a meal at home instead of eating out,” she said, “or do an act of kindness for someone in the community. … They should get some sort of alternative from a pastor or whoever it may be so they can still strengthen their faith without cutting out food.”
If you’re opting to cut out certain food groups as opposed to fasting, there are still some side effects to be prepared for.
Giving up caffeine for Lent, for example, when you’re used to having a few cups of coffee a day can result in headaches and irritability. To combat this, Hake recommends gradually starting to cut back.
“You could start cutting back before Lent or Ramadan,” she said. “And if you need to, gradually cut back throughout the [holy] season until you can fully cut out caffeine.”
It is not recommended for pregnant women or those with a history of eating disorders to drastically alter their diet. Instead, lifestyle changes that can enhance faith are a good alternative.
“Rather than focusing on fasting, they could look at other habits they have that involve food,” Hake said. “Instead of snacking in front of the TV, they could spend it in prayer or journaling,” she suggested.
Ruben McKenzie, pastor at New Mission Baptist Church, advises congregants to drink water and pray if they can’t fast altogether, but also to consult their doctor alongside their spiritual leader if they have to eat to follow a medication schedule.
“God allows us to have free will,” McKenzie said, “but He also allows us to have common sense.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.